v-moda vamp verza DAC/amp review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 10, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: V-MODA VAMP VERZA DAC and Headphone Amp review by Dale - YouTube

    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Nikon_A/Headphone_Dac_Amp_Vmoda_Verza_01.jpg
    Photo: http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Nikon_A/Headphone_Dac_Amp_Vmoda_Verza_02.jpg

    Gear used: Desktop and laptop PCs and Macbook Air running Foobar2000 and iTunes; Audioengine D1, Dragonfly, and Microstreamer DACs; PA2V2 and FiiO E17 headphone amps; v-moda M100, ATH ESW11, Beyer DT770LE, and Sennheiser IE800 headphones; various .FLAC and .WAV format music tracks.

    Review note: I configured my computer settings to play 96 khz music tracks, and made certain that any of the Verza's settings for bass, 3D, etc. were set to default (off). I connected the Verza to the computer as an ordinary USB DAC, so the Verza would process the USB digital output and feed that to its own internal headphone amp. I then connected my headphone to the Verza's headphone out. Since the short USB cable I use with the Verza carries only the unprocessed digital signal, and the output to the headphone uses the cable that comes attached (usually) to the headphone, there are no cable issues per se that could potentially degrade the sound. I set the computer's volume to maximum and then used the Verza's volume control to set the headphone listening volume.

    Besides using the Verza as a computer USB DAC and headphone amp, it also serves as a USB DAC and headphone amp for late-model Apple i-devices, both 30-pin and Lightning dock types. Since the Verza has its own internal battery, it's not only small and portable, but does not require more than the USB cable that comes with the i-device (iPhone/iPod/iPad) to operate. I found short (6 inch) 30-pin and Lightning USB cables at the Apple store recently, so I use those with the Verza instead of the ~36 inch cables that Apple provides with their i-devices. The Verza is larger than an iPhone 5 - about the same as the larger cell phones from Samsung etc., and about 1/2 inch thick. Using v-moda's 'Metallo' case for Apple and Samsung phones, the Verza can be locked to the Metallo case to effect a single case that can be carried in one hand, yet provide audio quality that's comparable to desktop computers with decent DACs and headphone amps.

    I don't have access to other i-device DACs such as the Fostex HP-P1 to compare to the Verza, but given that the Verza's sound quality as a computer DAC is at least on a par with the Dragonfly, Audioengine D1, Microstreamer etc., and that its i-device DAC is just about as good** as its computer DAC, I'm betting that the Verza's overall sound quality is at least as good as those other i-device DACs. Adding to that the versatility of use as both computer and i-device DAC, the Verza was my top choice as a universal headphone DAC and amp.

    **Apple i-devices don't play '.WAV' tracks with the full 96 khz and 24-bit resolution that's available on computers, so the shorter bandwidth when using i-devices with the Verza is a limitation of the i-device, not the Verza.

    Comparing the Verza as a computer DAC to the 3 mini-DACs noted above, the sound quality was comparable, but with some music tracks the Verza seemed to have a little bit more "air" and spaciousness, and with other tracks it seemed like the advantage shifted the other way. Since all of these amps have linear responses and similar low distortion numbers on a test bench, I can only guess that the small differences I heard were the various headphone outputs reacting to the headphones' input impedances, producing slight differences at different frequencies. As an i-device DAC, the only prior experience I had was with the HRT iStreamer, and the Verza is a big step above that one in sound quality.

    In spite of the similarities to other DACs I observed in the more-or-less direct comparisons I made, my first impressions of the Verza held up with longer-term listening compared to my long-term experience with the other DACs. Specifically, the Verza seemed to produce less boom in the upper bass, better impact and extension in the lower bass, and less irritation in the highs where sibilants etc. occur than the other amps I have. Some users may hear these as big differences - I hear them as more subtle most of the time, but either way my investment in the Verza seems safe insofar as I didn't find any flaws anywhere in its sound. Using the Verza on 'LO' gain with the headphones noted above, my lowest-volume tracks played fairly loud, and most of my tracks played to ear-blasting levels with no apparent clipping. Hitting pause when a modest-volume track is playing loudly, I don't hear any background noise. It's there when I turn the volume higher, but I'd say the signal-to-noise ratio is quite good.

    Looking at the Verza from the front, it has a volume control knob (absolutely the only way to go in my opinion!), the headphone jack which doubles as an optical out, a rocker switch to select computer or i-device DAC, and a rocker switch to select syncing, charging, or playback. On the side is a bass boost button and a '3D' button that provides digital signal processing, so that some music tracks which may sound dull or stifled will sound much more spacious and lively with the DSP turned ON. The difference is not subtle, it's dramatic. I could even see a justification for using this to do a crude re-mix of certain tracks if I could re-route the signal to an ADC/recorder. On the back end is the micro-USB port for charging the Verza and connecting it as a computer DAC, a USB-A port for connecting the i-device cables, and the HI/LO gain switch.

    The Verza's case is anodized aluminum in black or white, and seems very solid and strong. The brushed-metal finish should be good for not showing scratches as long as it isn't seriously abused. There is no standard carry case since there is no common profile for how most users will carry it. I haven't decided on a Metallo case for the iPhone 5 as yet, but I have a leather case I bought from Fossil for $12 that fits the Verza perfectly, so given the vast number of handheld devices in use today, there will be any number of cases available that can provide protection and functionality at the same time. The bottom line: Great sound from 2 DACs and headphone amp, high quality build, very nice aesthetics, small and portable, integration possibilities with Metallo case for single carry - the perfect headphone amp.

    The following music tracks were my primary test material for this review:

    Ben Goldberg - Root And Branch (Jazz): Clarinet, percussion, etc. - excellent sonics. The upright bass has great detail but stays mostly in the background. Great test for bass details.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (pop/rock): Dynamic vocals and lush ambiance with excellent guitar harmonics. Good test for harshness or distortion.

    Clark Terry - Sugar Blues (jazz): Strong trumpet blasts, especially around 4:20 into the track. Great test for harshness or distortion.

    Donald Fagen - Morph The Cat (pop/rock): Very strong bass guitar notes with impressive detail. Excellent test for bass detail and impact.

    Emily Palen - The Inevitability of Water (violin improvisation): Amazing violin dynamics and upper harmonics, especially after 0:50 into the track. This is my number one test for ambiance and "air".

    Hans Zimmer - Aggressive Expansion/Dark Knight Theme (soundtrack): Very strong percussion followed by very deep "shuddery" bass notes at 0:44 into the track. Excellent test for deep bass response.

    Hugo Audiophile 15-16 (electronic): Superb guitar tones and deep bass notes at 0:33 into the track. Good test for guitar tone and bass impact.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (classical): Bright harpsichord sound. Excellent test for treble accuracy and transient response.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (jazz/funk): Characteristic trombone sounds with very strong yet detailed deep bass. Perfect test for bass detail and impact.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (ethereal/vocal/ambient): Subtle string tones and ambiance. Good track for comparing various amps and headphones to competing models for overall differences.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2013
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